They are one of the most exciting defensive plays in football, but the CFL is seeing less of them per game.
Quarterback sacks have declined from 5.5 sacks per game in 2013 to 4.5 sacks per game so far in 2017, according to stats released by the CFL on Thursday.
Roughriders defensive end Willie Jefferson said there’s a simple reason for that.
“Quarterbacks are getting the ball out a lot of faster. The offence is running quicker routes,” he said.
“It makes it tougher and tougher to try to pressure the quarterback when that’s what their sole purpose to do is get the ball out,” added head coach Chris Jones, who also serves as the team’s defensive coordinator.
To combat those difficulties, the defence focuses on other things that can knock the quarterback off their game. Jefferson, who – at six feet six inches tall – has a pretty impressive wing span, said the knockdown is just as effective.
“It’s just trying to get off the ball a little faster … then just get your hands up and try to knock the ball out (of) the quarterback’s hand because most of the quarterbacks in the CFL aren’t very tall,” he explained of the adjustments the defence has had to make. “Just get your hands up and if anything, get a knockdown. A knockdown is just as good as a sack.”
Jones also stressed the merits of other types of pressure, pointing to his Grey Cup win with Calgary in 2008.
“We won a Grey Cup against Montreal a few years ago and Mike Labinjo didn’t do anything but stand at the line of scrimmage and knock down quick passes, so it’s one of those deals that whatever they’re doing you have to adjust.”
Jefferson does have one sack this season, but he also leads the league in quarterback pressures at six – a title he shares with BC’s DeQuin Evans and Toronto’s Victor Butler.
“You as a defensive end, you want to make the quarterback move so if I can get off the ball and get in the backfield and make the quarterback feel uneasy … that’s just making him speed up his progression or try to look for another route to where I can get to the quarterback or one of my teammates can to the quarterback.”
According to the league numbers, it’s been good for the offence when they’ve been able to keep their quarterback upright. Thus far in 2017, no team has scored on a drive where they gave up a QB sack.
Heading into the week three games it’s the Toronto Argonauts who have reached quarterbacks the most, racking up nine sacks. Edmonton and B.C. are next with five sacks a piece, while the Roughriders have four.
On the other side of the ball, Montreal has not allowed a single sack so far this season.